Eufloria HD is quite possibly the most serene real-time strategy game that we've ever played, which seems like a strange thing to say given that the genre typically sees you taking control of armies during tense battles. You'll still be guiding forces and crushing your enemies here, but the title's natural, calm aesthetic makes it a strangely relaxing experience, which in turn creates a very unique contrast between the gameplay and the visuals.
Tasked by the Mother Tree with spreading your seedlings throughout the galaxy, the release sees you going from level to level conquering asteroids – big and small – by commanding your plant-life army. The whole game is played using the PlayStation Vita's touch screen, which is accurate, but can take some getting used to – especially when you're in a rush to deploy or rearrange your seedlings.
Once you've worked your head around the controls, the title can hold your attention for lengthy periods of time. Its gameplay presents a solid, addictive take on the traditions of the genre as you send your seedlings zipping off to distant lumps of rock that they then burrow into. Your goal then is to grow out trees which go on to create yet more seedlings – adding huge numbers to your forces. Capturing every asteroid on a map results in a victory, although it goes without saying that the conquest isn't quite that easy.
It isn't long before you're introduced to your primary adversaries: the greys. With colourless petals and an aggressive attitude, you'll be constantly engaged in battle with the monotone seedlings as you fight to claim territory. As soon as your forces come into contact with the enemy, they'll start shooting off laser beams and blowing each other to pieces – which, as you can imagine, comes as a bit of a shock at first. But even then, you'll usually have the camera so zoomed-out that you won't witness the carnage in all of its detail.
Combat is automatic, but as you progress through the game's story, you'll need to start planning ahead by tackling opponents with whom you have a statistic advantage over. Each asteroid has its own set of stats which are carried over to any seedlings that are birthed there, essentially meaning that you'll always be on the lookout for the best rocks that the map has to offer. This adds a layer of strategy to the task of breeding the best troops possible, especially when you need them on the front lines during somewhat chaotic battles.
There's a slight problem, however, as there's no quick and easy way to tell which seedlings are from which asteroid, so you'll need to keep a mental note of where you're sending your most deadly underlings. Even then, they'll mix in with the rest of your forces when sent to an already populated area, although you do eventually get the option to separate your troops based on their most prominent statistics, which – with a little luck – allows you to divide the wheat from the chaff.
The release is relatively simple when compared to the rest of the genre, but this accessibility, coupled with the easy-to-grasp story mode tutorials, means that the game is a great starting point if you're a newcomer to real-time strategy. Mechanics like planting beacons that allow you to automatically send newly-made seedlings to a specific area are explained efficiently, and each system, regardless of complexity, is introduced at a steady pace.
And for the most part, you'll need to adapt to the game's often very slow, methodical tempo. Waiting for seedlings to detach themselves from their parent tree so that you've got a platoon large enough to mount an attack can feel like it takes an age at times, and the need to scout out different surrounding asteroids with a single unit can also slow progress considerably. Thankfully, you can speed up the game at any point, but even then, we dare say that more impatient players still won't find enough here to keep them entertained for long.
Indeed, the title can also prove to be quite boring. As we previously mentioned, the release adopts a calming aesthetic full of cool colours and twinkly sound effects which augments it with a uniquely soothing atmosphere, even during the heat of battle. But unfortunately, this can also hinder proceedings as it can be difficult to get excited or engaged with what's happening on screen when there's no tangible sense of urgency or panic. That's not to say that the game isn't tricky – at times you'll really need to plan out your actions before executing – but overall, a quick retry of a particularly awkward stage is often enough to spot what mistakes you made and correct them.
On top of the reasonably sized story mode, you can also take part in random skirmishes with the artificial intelligence, or try out Dark Matter mode, which provides more challenge than you'll find elsewhere. Here you'll need to make use of everything that you've learned, from the basics of sacrificing seedlings to boost an asteroid's stats, to the advanced use of setting up defensive trees to form an impregnable front line. Needless to say there's quite a lot of colourful content to keep you occupied, but only if you're patient enough to see it through.
Eufloria HD flutters effortlessly onto the Vita. The handheld's touchscreen controls may take a little getting used to, but once you're firmly planted into the real-time strategy's steady pace, it can be especially difficult to pluck yourself free. Its calm and considered nature won't be for everyone, but newcomers to the genre will appreciate its willingness to accentuate its accessibility.